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Massive earthquake hits Chile, 214 dead

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Women cry next to a destroyed building in Talca, some 300 km (186 miles) south of Santiago, February 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Victor Ruiz Caballero

CONCEPCION, Chile | Sat Feb 27, 2010 5:23pm EST

CONCEPCION, Chile (Reuters) - One of the world's most powerful earthquakes in a century battered Chile on Saturday, killing at least 214 people, knocking down buildings and triggering a tsunami that threatened Pacific coastlines as far away as Hawaii and Russia.

Buildings caught fire, bridges collapsed and debris blocked streets across swathes of central Chile, but the initial death toll was relatively low from a quake packing many times more power than the one that devastated Haiti last month.

A 15-storey building collapsed in Concepcion, the closest major city to the epicenter, and overturned cars lay scattered below a fallen overpass in the capital Santiago. Telephone and power lines went down, making it difficult to assess the full extent of the damage and loss of life.

The government said at least 214 people were killed in the 8.8-magnitude quake, which struck at 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST), sending people rushing from their beds and onto the streets in fear, hugging each other and crying.

"It came in waves and lasted so long. Three minutes is an eternity. We kept worrying that it was getting stronger, like a terrifying Hollywood movie," said Santiago housewife Dolores Cuevas.

One emergency official said the number of deaths was unlikely to increase dramatically, and a U.S. Geological Survey researcher attributed the low toll to Chile's solid building standards.

But it was the fifth-largest earthquake since 1900 and dealt a blow to the economy and infrastructure of the world's No. 1 copper producer and one of Latin America's most developed and stable countries.

"This will be a major blow to the country's infrastructure; there has been major damage to roads, airports, which are now suspended, ports and also in housing," Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera said.

The quake halted operations at two oil refineries and two major copper mines and the government said an estimated half a million homes were severely damaged.

President Michelle Bachelet said a huge wave hit the Juan Fernandez islands, an archipelago where Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned in the 18th century, inspiring the novel Robinson Crusoe.

"There was a series of waves that got bigger and bigger, which gave people time to save themselves," pilot Fernando Avaria told TVN television by telephone from the main island. Three people were killed and four missing there, he said.

Tsunami warnings were posted around the Pacific, including the U.S. state of Hawaii, Japan and Russia. The U.S. Navy said it was pulling six ships out of Hawaii's Pearl Harbor ahead of the tsunami, which was expected to hit the island at heights of up to 8 feet.

Unusually big waves battered Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, where residents were moved to higher ground as a precaution.

Bachelet said residents were evacuated from coastal areas of Chile's remote Easter Island, a popular tourist destination in the Pacific famous for its towering Moai stone statues.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck 70 miles northeast of Concepcion at a depth of 22 miles.

Comments

Feb 27, 2010 2:49am EST

omg, my prayers are with those affected by this terrible disaster.

maragonllc Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 3:20am EST

I beg an international help for this tragedy and inshallah there will be only few victinms.
Abu Hossein El Khalifa Al Mansoor

magdin Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 3:27am EST

Oh my god I have a friend who lives there.

HelloDMM Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 3:54am EST

Ok, those who are in Chile and want to contanct another person … and read this- try using text messages since they don’t die when telephone lines do.

MENDEZ Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 3:58am EST

Good grief. Another natural disaster. Pray to whatever Higher Power you believe in for help to the victims and then get out your credit cards and pony up some more cash to the International Red Cross or Red Crescent. Christian or Muslim, we are to help those in need.

fencerider Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 3:59am EST

how can i help?

I am in Los Angeles and want to help in Chile, if anyone is aware of anyway that I can get to Chile to Volunteer to help in anyway, please contact me

ryanperrella@yahoo.com

Please contact with specific information on how i can help

ryanperrella Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 4:08am EST

stay tuned, this could get ugly, an 8.8 magnitude quake is bound to have some nasty aftershocks download quakeshakes for the latest info. w w w . q u a k e s h a k e s . c o m

elvislives Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 4:09am EST

A terrible disaster that requires so much attention and a fast response. I’m checking out the Red Cross website after this.

BTW… Copper!!?! Is that relevant?

jt1000 Report As Abusive
 
 
Feb 27, 2010 4:29am EST

oh. another earthquake after haiti~~ 2012 is approaching. bless all~~

colyen Report As Abusive
 
 
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